During the last few shipping days before Valentine’s Day, E.G. Hill Company and Hills Floral Group, the largest floral distributors in the United States, working with the Department of Homeland Security, announced the seizure of counterfeit roses.
The illegal shipments were successfully intercepted as they moved from Columbia and Ecuador to the United States via the Miami port. "The roses were illegally grown and illegally shipped to the United States in violation of E.G. Hill Company’s nationally and internationally protected property rights," the company said.
Since 1881, E.G. Hill Company, based in Richmond, Indiana, has been serving the floral industry as the premier rose growers and marketers of cut roses. The have introduced some of the most widely acclaimed roses in the U.S. and abroad. The have employed nearly 700 employees and operate in 26 states.
E.G. Hill Company’s property rights supporting the seizure are administered by Royalty Administration International (RAI), a company that provides services to plant breeders in the areas of intellectual property rights administration, procurement, management and enforcement. John Dolan, E.G. Hill Company’s general agent, said, "The vast majority of our growers are careful to play by the rules. Here, a few growers didn’t. Hills moved quickly to protect its valued licensed growers worldwide. The result was huge, and the seizure was historic."
U.S. Customs confirmed that 79 boxes were seized. With an average of 400 roses per box, more than 30,000 roses were intercepted. "And we’re still looking," said Jeffrey Baldwin, port director for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at Miami International Airport. "We want to make sure that we gear up for future holidays: Easter and Mother’s Day."
Attorney Jennifer Whitelaw of the intellectual property firm Whitelaw Legal Group in Naples, Florida, represented the Hills companies. She presented the case to Customs and led the legal effort throughout the case. "The message to illegal growers is that counterfeiting does not pay," Whitelaw said. "If you place a counterfeit plant product into the stream of commerce, we will make every effort to intercept that product."
Plants are protected and encouraged by patent and trademark laws around the world. When a protected plant is grown and sold without permission of the intellectual property owner, usually the plant’s breeder, the plant is illegal. Whitelaw said, "A plant — its look, its properties, its very composition — may be protected by a patent." A plant may also be distinguished by a brand name or trademark.
Maarten Leune, RAI’s worldwide director, credits the investigative work of their South American office with providing the solid intelligence information needed for the success of the operation. "Our offices worldwide pulled together and helped U.S. Customs and the legal team turn good information into real results." Whitelaw said, "The cooperation of U.S. Customs and all the excellent people working there show the entire world that stopping the flow of illegal products can be quick, immediate and completely successful."
RAI confirms that seizure operations will continue in the future and illegal growers should expect to risk interception. Leune says, "Expect a revolution. Our efforts are ongoing and underway even now."